x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Fulfilling quotas on the agenda for UAE football clubs

Sharjah were quick to take advantage of new rule allowing clubs to complement their squad with an extra Asian player, others have been slow to react though. Analysis

Jakson Avelino Coelho is one of 35 overseas players already on the books at UAE's football clubs. The maxmimum is 48.
Jakson Avelino Coelho is one of 35 overseas players already on the books at UAE's football clubs. The maxmimum is 48.

Sharjah may have only the 2003 President's Cup title to show for their efforts over the past decade but they have stolen a march on their rivals ahead of the new season.

They have become the first club to sign an Asian player as part of their foreign quartet, recruiting Iman Mobali as their continental acquisition. The Iran international was the creative inspiration of the Al Shabab team that won the league title in 2007/08.

The rest of the 11 clubs are still scouring the market since the Professional League Committee approved a three-plus-one rule last month which means top-flight clubs can sign one Asian player in addition to three players from anywhere in the world.

Sharjah have turned to Iran for their choice, though they will hope Mobali performs better than he did for Al Wasl and Al Nasr. At Nasr, he featured in just eight matches in the 2009/10 season.

They could, however, have made a rash move as the 28 year old failed to score a single goal for Esteghlal, the Tehran team, last season.

But he still enjoys a healthy reputation, at least in Iran. Afshin Ghotbi, the former coach of the national team, described him as the "David Beckham of Asia" at the Asian Cup earlier this year.

"I mean the way he swerves the ball into the box, the ball is coming in like a laser beam with such pace and accuracy that it creates a problem for every team," Ghotbi said.

All Sharjah need now is a fourth foreign professional to complement Mobali and the two Brazilians Marcelinho and Edinho, who topped the scoring charts in the Iranian league last season.

As Al Jazira showed last season, the recruitment of foreign players to dovetail with the Emirati players is fundamental to success. The chance to now add a player from, say, Australia, Korea or Japan, could be the difference between success and failure. Indeed, this newspaper was contacted by a London-based sports agent looking to place one of his Australian players.

Yet most of the clubs have already left for their pre-season training camps in different parts of the world without an Asian recruit, meaning the player will have less time to integrate with his new teammates.

Ideally, they should have started their preparations with their full set of foreign players, but the approval for the three-plus-one rule only came into effect on June 26, leaving clubs with little time to finalise deals before the start of their pre-season schedule.

Dubai club could be the second club to announce their Asian player.

They have reportedly signed Fawzi Ayyash, the Bahrain midfielder, from Qatari side Al Sailiya.

Al Wasl are likely to retain their Omani defender Mohammed Al Shaibah, which leaves the other nine clubs still in the hunt for an Asian professional.

A sense of uncertainty had enveloped the clubs after the UAE Football League was dissolved last month and scouting for Asian talents was the least of their concerns.

Al Ahli had spent the best part of the past month and a half chasing the likes of Grafite, Jackson Coelho and Luis Jimenez. After landing the South American trio, the club have declared they are in no rush to announce their Asian player.

Some of the club officials have hinted they might be looking at the farthest parts of Asia.

Could this mean they might be bringing an Australian on board? More specifically, could we see Harry Kewell, a free agent now, wearing Ahli's red jersey in the coming season?

The former Liverpool player — a Champions League winner in 2005 — is 32 and might still have a few years of quality football left in him. Several Australian clubs have been in the hunt for his signature, but have been unable to meet his wage demands. Ahli could land in Perth, Australia next month for their final training camp armed with their chequebook.

Jazira, the champions, have retained their foreign trio of Matias Delgado, the Argentine, and the Brazilians Ricardo Oliveira and Bare, and are now hunting for an Asian player.

Nasr have also retained their overseas contingent - Carlos Tenorio (Ecuador), Leo Lima (Brazil) and Ismail Bangoura (Guinea) - and are also looking to recruit from the continent.

Iran could be the most likely destination for a majority of the scouts, but some clubs might steer clear of players from the Gulf.

Iranians were far from a success when the league last employed the three-plus-one quota. Mobali missed most of 2009/10 season at Nasr through injuries, while compatriot Mohammed Nosrati was often criticised for his performance in the Nasr defence. Mehrzad Madanchi struggled to make an impact at Ahli.

As a result, many clubs will seek to tap into the Central Asian republics such as Uzbekistan. Azizbek Haydarov, the Uzbekistan international midfielder, is reportedly a target for Shabab.

Those with greater resources will be tempted to look toward Japan and South Korea, the epicentre of Asian talent. In 2010, Al Ain managed to get Lee Ho on a six-month deal from Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma and they could be looking east again.

They know a good Asian player could navigate them towards the top end of the table.

arizvi@thenational.ae